I began thinking about the times I have made the remark that we learn as much or more from our failures as our successes. I that spirit, I decided I would write a little about what is currently working well for me. I will also relate a couple of the failures and frustrations I have experienced.
I am flipping my physics class this year. This is my first year teaching physics and my first year of using the flipped model of instruction. One of the best decisions I have made is to use the Minds On Physics online modules from The Physics Classroom. The students all moan and groan about them, but at the same time they ALL admit they have helped tremendously in understanding the material in class. These modules give students a chance to answer sample problems over specific concepts. There are usually only 8-12 questions in a module. The cool part is that if you miss a question, the module does not automatically hand out the correct answer; you just get another chance to answer a similar question. There are hints and links to get help before a student answers a question, but not after.
I think these modules have the qualities of autonomy, mastery, and purpose that are associated with what motivates people. I give the students a document on Monday with the modules that are assigned for the week (usually 4-8). The students can work on them whenever they want and they are due on Friday. When a student attempts a module they either get a “gold” or “silver” code – or fail and have to try again. This is really a standards based system. I make a gold code equal to 100, silver equal to a 75; no code means keep trying. The students can repeat modules to gain the gold code if they wish the higher grade.
I have been amazed at how hard the kids work on these modules. They help each other, doing the best kind of peer tutoring and collaboration. They get frustrated and mad (cognitive dissonance) and then walk tall when they figure things out. This is asynchronous because the students have freedom to work on the modules at any time. I have been very happy with my decision to use this resource and would encourage other physics teachers to check it out.
Another aspect of my classroom that is evolving positively is the way I am learning to present problems and experiences to the students that make them WANT to study and learn the answers that are necessary to solve problems. We are currently covering potential/kinetic energy and Hooke’s Law in our district curriculum (I hate the term covering). I did a little digging and came up with the idea of making finger rockets.
I brought a home-made finger rocket and posed a problem: If you know how “springy” the rubber band is, and figure “how hard” to pull on it, and what angle to launch the rocket – could you land it on a target with just one shot? Would that be worth some bonus test points or something? The kids are all-in; they want the points. They want to build the rocket. How do we measure the “springiness”? It’s like taking candy from a baby now. They’ll read and watch videos and ask questions because they think what we are doing is fun. The students that are struggling are kind of swept up in the momentum of the other students. When the students are having fun, it makes the day much better for everyone.
What’s not Working
I don’t have everything figured out. I put tons of resources on my website to support struggling students – I think I’m the only soul on the planet that looks at it. I don’t know what it takes to get a student to make an effort to use resources that will help them understand what they are studying more clearly. It seems it is far too easy to try to con me into answering their question for them or copy from someone else. It makes me crazy at times.
I offer students that perform poorly on a test an opportunity to review and re-test. I think it’s a great deal. They get a second chance to learn the material – AND PASS. It is a truly onerous task trying to get students to come in for a quick tutorial and then show up for a retest. I don’t understand this problem at all.
It may seem strange, but I’ll end my list of what’s not working by referring to a previous post. I had this truly awesome, incredible lesson planned recently that I believed would lead students to an epiphany regarding how math and science work together (sarcasm). I was so confident in the inevitable success of the lesson I decided to record a video that I could watch and keep as an exemplar of great teaching. Well, you can imagine the disaster that occurred…
Oh well, I really did learn from the failure. Perhaps it is the blend of our successes and our failures combined that keep us moving forward and helping us improve at our craft. I hope there was something here that you were able to relate to.